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Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on September 11, 2005

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A Sermon for September 11, 2005

Sermon preached by

The Right Rev. J. C. Fricker

For the past two weeks we have found ourselves relentlessly focused on the destructive flood waters of the Gulf Coasty. Day after day I've watched C.N.N. as they faced me with candid, grim depictions of the streets of New Orleans and other Gulf coast communities, all but submerged by a virtual sea of water, for it's unbelievably horrible effects. We've come face to face with the horror f water.

Butt today' liturgy presents us with a contrasting story of the goodness of water. The Exodus reading portrays water as the wonderful vehicle of deliverance, as the Lord drove back the Red Sea top create a wall of protection for the fleeing Isrelites. And then in the Baptismal liturgy we will thank God for the gift of the water of Baptism in which we are buried with Christ in his death, and share in his resurrection through which we are reborn by the Holy Spirit.

I find the juxtaposition of these two depictions of the evil and good effects of water to be uncanny. But we are living these days with these juxtaposition, and we must find some way to deal with it.

Four years ago today, thousands of people died horrible deaths in New York's Twin Towers, in the Pentagon. in a Pennsylvania field, and in hijacked planes. We meet today, four years later to the very day, still caught unavoidably in the grief of recollection, surely not to lament the destruction of man made towers, the icons of power and wealth. We have chosen to meet here, in Church, because we are drawn to remember people--people most of us have never met, thousands of people like ourselves, each with a human story. People who got up that September 11th morning, not expecting to die, all thinking they had time to work on, or to finish all sorts of plans, projects and relationships, juist as you and I got up this morning.

Rowan Williams, who had then just been appointed Archbishop of Canterbury, happened to be in New York city the day after the disaster. He later wrote of his experience in a little book entitled, "Writing in the Dust". In it he tells of being stopped in a street in New York by a youngish man who turned out to be an airline pilot and a Catholic. The tyoung man angrily asked the archbishop, "What the hell God was doing when those planes hit the twin towers." The archbishop could only speak to him of the mystery of evil.

That same question can be asked today when we so sadly remember the victims and the destruction caused by the flood waters of Katrina. Where is God in these tragedies? There are all kinds of olitical insinuations about why they happened, but how can we3 understand them theologically? That is not just an academic question. In fact it is the important question, for it implies those other questions which hound and perplex us; where can we find hope? Where do we find strength to go on? What can possibly redeem us from the evil we encounter? Searching questions indeed.

There is however yet another question that speaks also of a deep mystery and that is begged by some human responses to the disasters we ponder today. That question is :why does good happen? Goodness too is a mystery. If there is anything in all these tragedies, in New York four years ago, and in New Orleans two weeks ago, anything that has recalled our Christian faith, it has been that God's love becomes incarnate in human life. God acts upon and through people, inspiring us to deeds we could not imagine ourselves doing, giving us strength when we believed ourselves at the end of our rope; giving us hope to go on when we thought we could not survive another minute. God does not promise to save us from all danger, but God does promise to be with us in all our troubles. It's what I would call this morning in the context of our liturgy, the baptismal spirit, seeking and serving Christ in all persons loving our neighbours as ourselves.

Let me give you two powerful examples of that baptismal spirit. I was in New York City for meetings four years ago no long after 9/11. Like most visitors, I was drawn to Ground Zero. Directly across the street is St.Paul's Episcopal Chapel. If you know St.Paul's, you'll recall that it is a very historic and a very elegant building. Unlike other buildings around the Trade Center, it was completely unscathed. When I entered the chapel, I was confronted by an incredible sight that I was not emotionally prepared for. Picture this; the interior walls were completely covered with thousands of letters, messages, photographs of the almost 3000 people killed, T shirts, baseball caps, flags, banners, all sent from people around the world expressing grief and sympathy and hope and solidarity.

The Chapel was open 24 hours day, as a place of quiet, of rest and refreshment for the fire fighters and demolition workers who mingled with the families and lovers of those killed, some waiting to hear the news that the body of a loved one had been found. The side aisles were lined with cots so people could rest, food was served around the clock in the narthex, clergy offered counseling, a podiatrist tended weary feet, and the eucharist was celebrated every noon day in this most tragic and unique liturgical setting.

One other example of this baptismal spirit. Our own Priscilla Wiedl, a former church warden here at our cathedral, forwarded me an mail she received from her niece who loves in New Orleans where she is a member of St.Anna's Episcopal parish, which is in the French Quarter. St.Anna's was completely destroyed by the hurricane. Yet she says that people who belong to this parish, which she describes as a most loving community, are determined to continue as a worshipping and serving community in spite of the disaster which has taken away their building. That's also the Baptismal Spirit, responding to the question, why does good happen. It happens because God is there in the disaster, and so the church is there.

 

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